Criticism as Resistance: A Methodology for the Activist-Academic
This paper draws on my experience as a DPhil candidate in English Literature at the University of Oxford, where for over three years now I have been writing a carefully historicised assessment of the colonial literary archive with the aim of uncovering the latent presence of anti-imperial resistance within it. Interestingly, my work has been met with some animosity by certain academics, despite what I thought were its clear postcolonial and materialist underpinnings and its obvious political positionality. In response to these criticisms, I have developed a methodological framework that unashamedly advocates not only the ideology that informs its politicised—and that some may see as radical—readings of colonial texts, but quite explicitly draws on postcolonial legacies in the contemporary world as the driver of this political urgency. The result, it is hoped, is that the thesis has itself become a mode of anti-imperial resistance. Because I share the outrage of historians such as Mike Davis who argue that ‘what we today call the “third world”’ is an ‘outgrowth’ of the inequalities that were shaped ‘most decisively in the last quarter of the nineteenth century’, the thesis is self-confessedly motivated by the often violent and material implications of the expansion of the world-system under the remit of the British Empire, as well as by its post-imperial ramifications. In this way, it is hoped that the work the thesis undertakes is affiliated with, if not an extension of, what Benita Parry describes as ‘the writings of liberation movements that had inaugurated the interrogation of colonialism and imperialism’ in the first place. Presented in the form of an academic paper, I will show how the foregrounding of an academic’s contemporary radicalism legitimises the politics of his or her historical-literary research and criticism, rooting this in an oft-obscured academic tradition that has been coherent and consistent in its productive conflation of academia and activism.
About Dominic Davies
Dominic Davies has just completed his DPhil at the University of Oxford under the supervision of Professor Elleke Boehmer. He is researching the way in which colonial literature set in the geographies of South Africa and South Asia at the height of the British Empire configures the relationship between imperial infrastructure and various forms of anti-imperial resistance. He is the Network Facilitator for the Leverhulme-funded Network, “Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature”.